It's closing in on 5 p.m. in the East, but the morning pairings in the first round of the U.S. Open golf tournament at Pebble Beach Golf Links on the edge of the Pacific Ocean are just wrapping up. There's no point in paying attention to early birdies from golfers in the afternoon pairings because they have so much golf left to play, but it's worthwhile to do a mid-round evaluation of the morning leaders.
England's Ian Poulter, who has been threatening to join the game's elite for the past couple years, didn't look too good on the 18th hole despite his pink-tinged plaid pants and his pink sweater, but after hitting out of the sand three times on his way to the par-5 green, Poulter snaked in a downhill breaker from about 20 feet to save par and a one-under round of 70.
That put him among the leaders in the clubhouse along with Canada's Mike Weir, South Korea's K.J. Choi and Rafael Cabrera-bello of Spain. England's Luke Donald, touted by many for his shotmaking and short game as the perfect match for Pebble Beach, justified that hype by getting around in even par 71, where he was joined by former PGA champion David Toms.
There are several prominent names grouped at 1-over 72, including Jim Furyk, Zach Johnson, Justin Leonard, Scott Verplank, Tim Clark and Ricky Barnes, who tied for second last year at Bethpage Black. Most of those players had it under par midway through the round but faltered toward the end in conditions that were about as benign as you can get on the Monterrey Peninsula.
Masters champion Phil Mickelson called his putting "horrific," but so was some of his decision-making in a 4-over round of 75 that left him in need of a strong second round to get back in the tournament tomorrow afternoon. Playing partners Padraig Harrington and Y.E. Yang were among a group of strong players who managed to shoot 73, including defending champion Lucas Glover and senior player David Frost of South Africa. Past Open champions Retief Goosen and Angel Cabrera joined Mickelson at 75, British Open champion Stewart Cink shot 76 and 2006 open winner Geoff Ogilvy, who won at Winged Foot when Mickelson and Colin Montgomerie butchered the final hole, shot an embarrassing 79.
On to the afternoon round, where Tiger Woods started by hitting the first fairway, nearly holing out his second shot and finally settling for a par. Playing partners Ernie Els and Lee Westwood both bogeyed. It's not going to get any easier in the afternoon.